Let’s Talk about Facebook – and Hunter Biden

Now in troubled waters, Mark Zuckerberg’s social network will be able to take advantage of the political divisions that it has sown in order to pull itself out of a deadlock.

Last month, with the help of an inside whistleblower, The Wall Street Journal revealed that Facebook was playing a downright toxic role in American democracy.

The informant, Frances Haugen, has backed up her claims with a wealth of internal documents showing a company that profits from resentment, anger and vitriol. Facebook is using algorithms to promote the most polarizing and polemical content, hoping that once its users are “hooked” by the dark side of human emotions, they will spend more time on the site … and thereby generate increased advertising revenue.

The revelations confirm, and amplify, certain long-standing fears about the social network. These disclosures are grist for the mill for those who propose serious regulatory oversight of the internet giants, particularly when it comes to regulating content. But in the short term, such changes remain unlikely.

In the first place, the outsized influence of these businesses , culturally, economically and socially , makes it politically difficult to bring to bring them to heel. In addition, there is the fact that even among legislators who would like to tighten regulation, and there are those who would, there is disagreement over the nature of the problem.

Too Much Control, or Not Enough?

On one side, especially among Democrats, there are some who demand that actors such as Facebook fight more energetically to challenge misinformation and potentially dangerous messages that circulate freely.

In this sense, people have raised legitimate questions since Jan. 6 about the role Facebook played, even if it was only passively, in the Capitol insurrection. The insurgents were able to use the social network with complete impunity to easily organize the worst domestic attack on American democracy in ages.

We can add to that the daily lies and delusions that appear about public issues from vaccination to the integrity of elections.

This permissiveness allows conspiracy gurus to compete with credible and established sources for influence.

Conversely, others, especially certain Republicans, see the control of content as an infringement of the right to freedom of expression and, ironically, encroachment on the truth. One example perhaps stands out more than any other: that of Hunter Biden, the U.S. president’s son.

Last October, in the final sprint of the hotly contested presidential race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the New York Post published a controversial story alleging that Hunter Biden’s personal computer, in addition to compromising images of hard drug use, contained exchanges showing that Joe Biden had lied concerning his involvement in his son’s professional activities.

These were not normal activities. Hunter Biden was handsomely paid for sitting on the board of directors of a Ukrainian energy company at a time when his father was vice president of the United States … and was responsible for the country’s foreign policy in that region of the world. Given the obvious potential for a conflict of interest, Biden swore throughout the 2020 campaign that he was not up to date on his son’s business activities. The New York Post article said it had proof to the contrary.

And yet, the internet giants (starting first with Twitter, followed by Facebook) blocked the article, calling it disinformation.

The rub? As evidenced by a recent article by a reporter for Politico, the substance of the New York Post article was indeed true.

Did this intervention by the internet giants enable Biden to carry the presidency? That’s something we will never be able to prove. But, considering that Joe Biden won the keys to the White House by fewer than 45,000 votes in three states, these are legitimate questions.

The 2 Watchwords: Opaque and Arbitrary

In the end, content regulation by the Facebooks and Twitters of this world can only work to recognize an important failure: Left to themselves and their quasi-monopolies, these corporate giants are not really accountable for how they do things.

Thus, there is almost never a real way to determine precisely what causes a social network to suspend an account or delete a message while an incalculable number of other accounts spreading lies and deceit remain untouched.

Above all, there is never any real way to determine who has made the decision. It takes something close to Kremlinology to see clearly through the inner workings of social networks.

That’s technological progress, as they say.

About this publication

About Peter Lopatin 51 Articles
After retiring from a 25+ year career in corporate and business law some years ago, I became an ESL teacher, which I continue to do part-time. I am also a published writer of short stories, poetry, essays and book reviews. My love of the French language has been a constant and I have worked to refine my command of French over the years.

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